Xenophobia is Woke now?
The New York recently published a report by Miriam Jordan about Black Farmworkers who say they lost their jobs to foreigners who were paid more. While the New York Times is generally very liberal on immigration policy, this article on White South African immigrants displacing African American farmworkers workers in Mississippi has an anti-immigration slant. The article reports that “Longtime field laborers in the Mississippi Delta said in a lawsuit that they were asked to train white guest workers from South Africa before losing their jobs to them.” A lawsuit has been filed by the Mississippi Center for Justice, on behalf of the displaced Black farmworkers. Ty Pinkins, a lawyer at the Mississippi Center for Justice, alleges that “Growers have chosen to bring in South Africans to the detriment of local workers by misusing the agricultural visa program.” This lawsuit on behalf of the two plaintiffs alleges that their employer hired only White immigrant labor from South Africa in violation of civil rights regulation. Garold Dungy, who was a former recruiter for foreign farm labor, including for the Mississippi farm that the lawsuit is against, said that “South Africans represented the bulk of his business. They are “the preferred group”, because of their strong work ethic and fluency in English.”
These South African farmworkers were hired under the H-2A visa program, that enable farmers to hire foreign workers for up to 10 months at wages that are set by the Labor Department. There is an increasing demand for niche high-skilled labor in the agricultural sector. Also the overall demand for farm labor has increased due to immigration from Mexico declining, with many Mexican immigrant farmworkers abandoning farm work in favor of construction. South Africa, which has an unemployment rate exceeding 30%, is now second only to Mexico, in H-2A visa holders and the NYT article reports that the number of South African visa holders has “soared 441 percent between 2011 and 2020.”
Miriam Jordan, the New York Times’ national correspondent on immigration matters, takes a very liberal immigration stance in practically all her articles, including a 2013 Wall Street Journal article calling for an increase in foreign farm labor. However, her recent article’s rhetoric is outright Trumpian. The narrative on immigration changes because the immigrants are White, and the displaced domestic workers are Black, with Jordan uncapitalizing White while capitalized Black. Jordan also emphasizes that South Africa is a country “with its own history of racial injustice,” which she would never say about any non-White immigrant group from nations with histories of racial sectarianism or oppression.
Responses to the article range from agreement from woke blue check xenophobes, to civic nationalist, immigration restrictionist complaints that immigration depresses wages, to the edgier rightest types pointing out the blatant hypocrisy with jokes like “go back to Africa but woke.” Examples of woke types engaging in blatant immigrant bashing include deputy national editor of the New York Times, Kim Murphy describing the story as “the dynamics of global labor in a region with a history of racism,” David Beard of the Washington Post Tweeting “From apartheid to Mississippi. Of course," Paul Klein, founder of impakt and the Impakt Foundation for Social Change in Toronto tweeting “White South Africans are upending the lives of Black farmer workers? I can’t think of words to describe how disturbing this sounds,” and Michele Desoer, a Human Rights advocate and lawyer with #resistance in her bio tweeting “Disgusting. This is the exact opposite what these visas are supposed to do. People can only come in if local workers won’t do the job at the same price.” Another liberal commentor tweeted that “You know where else they bring in 'help' from South Africa? South Florida. Country clubs in Boca, etc always have white South Africans working in hospitality for the season. Locals lose out big time.”
The more civic nationalist, immigration skeptics used this case as an example to make their point from a labor standpoint. Former Trump speechwriter Stephen Miller tweeted “If BBB (Build Back Better) becomes law, millions of Americans — across every sector of the economy — will lose their jobs to foreign workers.” The labor rights organization US Tech workers pointed out that “Had Miriam (NYT) always been honest about guest worker visa programs and how they are used primarily to undercut American workers, she wouldn’t be receiving the blowback she’s receiving for this piece where she now acknowledges this argument only because it fits a narrative,” and emphasizes that “The H-2A workers in this case were paid MORE than the Americans.”
The H-2A farm visa’s recent expansion had bipartisan support but ironically Breitbart was very critical of Trump and GOP reps for backing the visa program. Also Breitbart’s commentators’ responses to the recent case in Mississippi were generally against foreign workers regardless of race, with a few comments focusing more on the racial dynamics. Comparisons can be made between the Mississippi story and anti-discrimination lawsuits filed against Indian employers in the Silicon Valley, as far as ethnic nepotism in hiring and immigration policy is a major complaint of immigration restrictionists.
The issue of Blacks being displaced by immigrant labor has long been a staple at Breitbart and also promoted by Trump to appeal to Black voters. Now The New York Times has picked up on the narrative that Black labor is under threat from foreigners. The right’s strategy of virtue signaling about how immigration harms Blacks has had limited success in winning over a critical number of Black voters to the GOP.
The immigration restriction movement generally focuses on issues of assimilation, overall numbers, legality, and economic impact, while being extremely cautious to avoid accusations of White ethnocentrism. For instance the Brexit movement focused primarily on Polish immigrants rather than on non-European immigrants displacing British workers and Trump got flak, just for allegations by John Bolton, that he wanted to grant asylum to White South African Farmers. The conservative strategy of portraying “dems as the real racist” has actually done more to push democrats further left on issues of race, which has its pros and cons. Now the right is showing signs of moving towards ethnocentrism in response to how the establishment left has racialized everything.
While there used to be an immigration skeptic labor-left, the immigration debate is now a divisive wedge issue, polarized along rigid ideological lines. Traditionally the left was more pro-diversity in contrast with the right, which was more xenophobic. However today’s establishment-left rejects any version of multi-culturalism or immigration policy that is inclusive of Whites. Besides the blatant anti-White racism, the left is focused primarily on Black identity politics and all other minority group interests are sidelined. For instance NPR slammed Boston for electing an Asian rather than a Black mayor. The South African angle to the article, is especially relevant, as the woke left has adopted South Africa’s political discourse with calls for Truth and Reconciliation Committees and warnings of the dangers of White Minority Rule. This is a fairly niche story but this “new xenophobia” applies to many other cases. The most obvious being Russia-gate, and how Russian is a foreign nationality that it is acceptable to demonize in woke circles.
We are entering an era where all politics is identity politics, including immigration policy. An immigration debate based upon economics, legality, meritocracy, and assimilation into American culture and values makes little sense in a sectarian future of different political and ethnic groups competing and lobbying for their group interests. The right could say that the left only wants immigration if it serves the agenda of “The Great Replacement”, such as the outrage over a very modest White immigrant group. However in this new tribal America, debating you’re opponent upon principles of fairness is futile.